Against the national backdrop of sporadic violence and looting stemming from civil rights demonstrations, locals have been turning out in force to peacefully exercise their rights to free speech. And law enforcement officers have been admirably restrained in their reactions to those demonstrations.
All are to be commended for their behavior.
A crowd of more than 2,000 marched from Bogert Park through downtown to the Gallatin County Courthouse a week ago. An estimated 3,000 showed up at a Friday demonstration to mark a National Day of Action for Black Lives. These were easily the largest gatherings in recent memory to voice sentiments on a social or political issue. And they are indicative of the depth of feeling stirred by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis man who died while being restrained by police.
The local events were organized by the Montana State University Black Student Union and the Montana Racial Equity Project and came off without problems. Cognizant of the coronavirus threat, organizers handed out face masks and hand sanitizer to participants. Police officers walked alongside the marchers without interfering and solely to maintain public safety.
The Friday event brought out counter protesters, but they were easily overshadowed by the thousands participating in the demonstration. The gatherings were also subject to some jeers on Facebook by critics who noted Bozeman’s racially and ethnically homogenous population and relative lack of overt racial strife. But those cynics ignore the reality of racial injustice nationally – something we all have a stake in. They also ignore that we indeed have incidents of racial prejudice locally, including the recent alleged death threats leveled by a Belgrade man toward a fellow worker from Brazil.
Nationally, incidents of police brutality suffered by minorities are clear evidence that racism continues to be endemic to our national culture. Only through deliberate and active resistance to those attitudes will we overcome it. And that includes everyone – even those of us living in the relatively monochromatic state of Montana.
This is an issue worth speaking out on. Racism has been with us since the birth of our nation and before. But now, with almost everyone carrying a cellphone camera in their pocket, it is becoming more visible than ever.
Southwestern Montanans are encouraged to continue to take part in important national social and political issues. And, they are encouraged to do so in a peaceful, safe and constructive manner.